As Eden – the new address in Nairobi, which is equal parts hotel, urban sanctuary and artistic center – feels like a home, it’s probably because it was once. Anna Trzebinski, who was born in Germany, Kenyan fashion designer, and her late husband, Tonio Trzebinski, built it by hand almost 30 years ago as newlyweds in their twenties. The coffee tables were rescued wood from a sunken dhow that washed out while Tonio searched on their honeymoon. There are collages on the walls by Peter Beard, a friend and neighbor, depicting the artist Francis Bacon and the queen.
Trzebinski has packed many lives in half a century: two fathers, two husbands (Tonio dies in a murder case in 2001; her former second husband is a fighter and guide from Samburu), the opening and closing of ‘ a bush camp, three children. Her meticulously decorated accessories have been picked up by brands such as Paul Smith and Donna Karan. “I’m 56 and the independent Nairobi is 58 years young,” she says. “We grow up together.”
Turning her family home into a hotel was not exactly in the game plan, but it was also not entirely lacking. “The extraordinary thing is that the amalgamation of all the threads of my life here has set me free,” she says. “It feels like a new beginning.”
The idea for Eden and its philanthropic effects, the Eden project, were embodied last year through conversations Trzebinski had with her friend and neighbor, the celebrated artist. Wangechi Mutu. “We had long conversations about what is most important to us now, in present-day Kenya,” said Trzebinski of Mutu, whose work has been exhibited everywhere from Tate Modern to the Pompidou to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and what Trzebinski’s. informally ‘mentor and champion’. Both women experienced a change in Nairobi, before and during the pandemic: ‘For the first time in years, when many of the expats left, the traffic slowed down, the sky cleared and we could see – beyond what we literally has been since childhood, ”says Mutu. ‘It has become possible to reflect on the meaning of a house, except that it is a physical place; like, do we know who we are, as Kenyans? ”
Trzebinski spent much of the pandemic in firefighting mode and dealt with the collapse of her income. An existing lease was abruptly terminated on her home, and the closure put a block on the trunk supporting her niche fashion business. Therefore, she auctioned off her entire stock at auction online and raised cash to keep her female art team going. “Nobody lost her job; nobody got a pay cut, ‘says Trzebinski. “We have been working together for three decades, giving birth together, getting married, raising our children together, burying men together.” In six months, the team (more accustomed to decorating beautiful suede coats) helped transform Eden’s handful of buildings from a family home into a creative sanctuary and an art hub that could offer a new kind of hospitality. They sewed the mosquito nets, painted the butterfly murals connecting the common areas, polished the hardwood floors and draped sand-colored net over the distinctive fiberglass roofs to filter sunlight.
Nine bedrooms were carved out of the various spaces and filled with souvenirs and the ephemera of a travel life. A borehole and lake made by a woman provide a water source for the professional kitchens, and the show deck is wrapped in a four-acre garden.
“It’s never been about heads on beds on the way to safaris,” says Trzebinski about her ambitions for Eden, which she sees as a political forum and a partly arts club, a place for locals to get together and get involved. touching on the topics of the day, nationally and globally. “I was so encouraged when people like my former boss, Richard Leakey, and activist Kathy Eldon took up the idea of the place.” Eldon offers sponsorship through her US-based setup, Creative Visions. Under his leadership, Trzebinski says, the Eden project regularly hosts monthly discussion panels with diverse parties – events that disrupt ‘stereotypes about age, race, religion and gender’.
A few days later I get a taste of the possibilities of the project as a social impact platform. When night falls, it’s like a theater curtain, sudden and dramatic; the fires and candles are lit and the place comes alive. At the bar, above which ostrich eggs hang like giant earrings, is a diverse group of people: artists, conservationists, politicians, food gurus and financiers. Besides Kofi Annan’s son and Peter Kinyua, head of the Rhino Ark Fund (whose performance is this evening’s event), it’s a female power station. There’s the Emmy-winning producer, Sigrid Dyekjaer, straight out of the plane at the Cannes Film Festival. The three-time chef of Michelin star Dominique Crenn, poorly linked to her fiancé, American actress Maria Bello, is so inspired that she wants to recreate the idea in France and start a consortium of like-minded “on-hoteliers”.
Tonight, however, everyone is here to celebrate the huge rhino levy, which raised $ 1.4 million for the preservation of Kenyan private sector funding during lockdown. Kenyans do it themselves, says teacher Nyokabi Kenyatta, daughter of the country’s founding father. The pride is palpable – strengthened since the pandemic, she says, when expats leave in large numbers; “It has led to people getting to know their own country better and relying less on international support.”
Nairobi has been undergoing change since long before the pandemic. Mutu describes “many vertical growth-high buildings, apartment blocks and shopping malls where there used to be bungalows and small shops. There is a revival of business activity in a relatively stable economy. “But Eden, in the green Langata enclave, is undeniably an oasis, surrounded by what is still a real game in this budding ‘maximum city’. None of the Kenyans I spoke to believed that ” a place like it would have been possible 10 years ago. “There are [still] nothing like it, ”says Lucy Chodota, charismatic creator of Stormloop, Kenya’s response to Sex and the city. “It’s dynamic and it heals.”
In the future, Trzebinski wants to write a memoir and perhaps create another project on the coast in Lamu. Her new home next to Eden is an anthill of activity; staff, dogs, children, guinea fowl. Her daughter and friends splash in Eden’s lake. There is, I note, as we prepare to say goodbye, the deep Kenyan feel of a town about it. “There is a broadcast in Swahili that I cherish, that you tell people close to you,” she says with a smile. “We are together. We are together. ”